Zenat Begum Turned a Bustling Brooklyn Street Corner Into a Working Greenhouse

To understand how a fully functioning greenhouse ended up at the busy intersection of Quincy Street and Bedford Avenue in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, it’s important to get to know Zenat Begum, the owner of Playground Coffee Shop.

Zenat opened the shop back in 2016, in a space that previously housed her father’s hardware store, and quickly expanded to include the Playground Annex, which houses a radio station and bookstore, as well as Playground Youth, a nonprofit organization dedicated to issues confronting the community, including literacy and food equity.

I believe in BedStuy. I believe in myself. I believe in the shop. I believe in the greenhouse says Playground Coffee...
“I believe in Bed-Stuy. I believe in myself. I believe in the shop. I believe in the greenhouse,” says Playground Coffee Shop owner Zenat Begum. “These are things that are active radical attempts. We are imagining our futures because these things aren’t going to be built for us.”Image courtesy of Zenat Begum

Providing for the community is fundamental to each project that the Playground team takes on. “Every time we do something, we change and raise the bar of what should be done in our communities,” Zenat explains. “I’m talking about being able to keep implementing this really large notion and understanding of entrepreneurship into taking care of your communities.”

Shortly after the pandemic hit, Playground got to work on several mutual aid projects. The team established a take-one-leave-one library that distributes works exclusively by writers of color, assembled a network of volunteers distributing PPE and essential supplies at Black Lives Matter protests, and they worked with organizers to create a network of community fridges providing free produce 24 hours a day.

It was while working on the fridge project that the idea for the greenhouse began to crystalize, in realizing that fundamentally addressing the issues surrounding food sovereignty wasn’t, as she says, “as simple as just donating a fridge.”

Zenat cites the statistics: One in three kids in New York City are food insecure, and one in 10 in public schools experience homelessness. She probed further, looking at obesity and food deserts and gentrification. “Let’s reel it back: Why aren’t there programs that support Black and brown families who can’t support their children with adequate nourishment and nutrition?”

“It made me really frustrated. We need to have a plot of land that grows for this. We need to get an actual farm to be able to grow food for this,” Zenat says. And never having built a greenhouse before didn’t scare her off. “I don’t really have the tools,” she thought. “But I also know that, for the understanding that I have and the experience that I’ve had growing up in New York, I know what a New Yorker deserves, which is a lot more.”

She reached out to Jasper Kerbs of the Cooper Union Garden Project and, with the help of several volunteers, the structure was erected in October of last year. The shop is utilizing one of the city’s outdoor vending permits and they’re in the midst of harvesting this month.

When they’re able to resume programming, Zenat intends to teach kids in the neighborhood how to get involved and have plots so they can start growing together. “The most important thing about this is that this will be an opportunity for kids who live in Bed-Stuy to see food growing, to show them that there is life that starts at fertilizing and that we can be involved in the process of food distribution and food harvesting from the very beginning.”

Image may contain Outdoors Building Nature Wood Shelter Countryside and Rural
“Our greenhouse is straight up on the street. I want people to see that these structures have to and should exist.”Image courtesy of Zenat Begum

And she acknowledges the responsibility and history that comes with this endeavor. “We’re on stolen land right now,” Zenat says. “We’re thinking about farming practices that date back to East Asia, which is where my family is from, and sharecropping that was implemented during the period just after slavery, which is one of the darkest times in history, period. But with all of those tragedies and travesties occurring, there is this sense of land and relationship that we have that we need to bring back to ourselves. It’s ancestral, of course, and it’s spiritual, but most importantly it’s territorial. Why is it that Black and brown people have a hard time with housing and food insecurity when we have literally created some of the most adequate and sophisticated food systems in the world? Our bodies are used to actually supply people with this type of food and nourishment.”

“So there’s many things that we’re addressing here, but I only hope that at surface level we’re talking about things that actually make a difference, which is ultimately feeding children.”

In true Playground style, the greenhouse is one of many initiatives in the works—from financial literacy courses and book clubs to bystander intervention trainings. Given Zenat’s dedication, there’s no doubt they’ll come to fruition. “The way that I love New York is so poetic. I’m like one of those gnarly girlfriends, ‘Did you eat today? Do you want water?’” She asks the city: “Did you eat today, New York? Do you want water? Do you want a pillow?”

If you’d like to support Playground Youth, there is a fundraiser underway for programming and operational costs. 

Previous Article

12 Outdoor Furniture Sets for Living Alfresco

Next Article

These Personal Homes of Interior Designers Are for Sale

Related Posts
Read More

Кристен Стюарт покупает поместье в стиле средиземноморского возрождения в Лос-Фелисе

Последнее дополнение Кристен Стюарт к ее портфолио недвижимости – очаровательная недвижимость в стиле средиземноморского возрождения в Лос-Фелисе, имеющая…
Read More

Близится к завершению строительство яхт-клуба в Майами, продажи роскошных товаров в Нью-Йорке превысили 350 миллионов долларов и другие новости недвижимости

В мире недвижимости всегда происходит что-то новое, от высококлассных дизайнерских заказов до интересных объявлений. В этом еженедельном обзоре…
Total
0
Share